The Church in an age of Suicide. (Are we really a people of hope?)

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Creative Commons: “Solo/Alone” by Hernán Piñera

Recently, I had the great privilege of being invited to be part the planning team for our city’s inaugural  National Suicide Survivors Day. While you can find more information about what this day is about here, the purpose can be summed up this way:

Survivor Day is the one day a year when people affected by suicide loss gather around the world at events in their local communities to find comfort and gain understanding as they share stories of healing and hope.

Sitting with me around the table, I found civic health care representatives, representatives from AFSP as well as survivors of suicide. It was a beautifully eclectic and compassionate group of people.
During our time of planning, we shared stories of how they had been impacted by suicide, some shared the stories of their own attempts to take their life, and we talked about what National Survivor day looks like.

This day is intended to be a place for people to find hope, community and love in the midst of a very dark chapter of their life.

It was a meeting filled with tears, hope and beauty.

Over and over again, during our time together, I kept thinking, “this is exactly the kind of thing the Church needs to be part of.” After all, we are Gospel people and it’s the Gospel which offers hope, offers love, and demands compassion towards others.

A perfect fit, right?

As this internal monologue ran inside my head, a question in regards to where this celebration would be located came up- “Where would we meet?” someone asked.

Hearing this, I grew excited. I have space at our church, and would gladly offer it free of charge. After all, the good folks of Living Vine Church are some of the most wonderful embodiments of love, grace and compassion I’ve ever met.

But as my building was mentioned, the leader of the meeting spoke these words,

“I can’t stress how grateful I am that your church would take the time to participate in this meeting. Your folks are welcome here and deeply hope this partnership continues. But I need to encourage us to not meet at a church building. Our group has found through the years that the very people considering suicide, or those who’ve lost people to suicide, are quite often ones most deeply wounded by the church and will not come to this event if it’s held at a church.”

In that moment, my heart broke. It broke because I knew they were right about the American Church.

How? Lets start with a few statistics.

According to a Williams Institute (UCLA) study, 4.6 percent of the overall U.S. population has self-reported a suicide attempt. This number climbs to somewhere between 10 and 20 percent for lesbian, gay or bisexual respondents. This number then doubles to 41 percent when speaking about trans or gender non-conforming people.

41 percent.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Stories of those in transition

At the time of this meeting, our culture (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) was ablaze with social commentary about the transition of Caitlyn Jenner. The church and her leaders gladly jumped in.

Some in the church were kind-hearted and gracious.

Many, however, called Caitlyn and those who dare defend her, the worst of names.

They called Caitlyn a monster (shamefully evoking Frankenstein references).

They called Caitlyn defenders heretics.

An aggregation of theological perspectives, put together like a mosaic, created the picture of a villain in the 21st century.

In personal conversation, this is often the case, as well.

I’ve frequently heard those who find themselves same-sex attracted, or those who don’t identify with the gender of their birth, being compared to those who practice beastiality or pedophilia.

“Both are sin” we say. “God forgives us all” we say.

But do we not see the hurt inflicted in such verbiage?

Do we not see the brokenness this creates in the name of Christ?

Do we not see the ways in which the Community of Healing has become the Community of Exclusion and Rejection?

What kind of Church do we want to be? 

The truth is, the church is in the midst of a very heated debate about same sex marriage. In this debate, Christians are entrenching in their particular theological bunker. Throwing exegeted passages from their bunkers like grenades.

And you know who is hurt by this?

The very ones we are commanded (and claim) to love.

For in our proclamations of biblical marriage, we’re destroying the image of God in others.

The uncomfortable truth is, as the priesthood of believers, we bear the weight of dealing with this issue in a theologically responsible way.

However, it’s important to remember that every one of my same-sex attracted friends has reminded me that they don’t demand that the church marry them and their partner. They only ask for kindness and compassion.

Kindness and compassion: two things we’ve (myself very much included here) failed at miserably.

And so, as the church continues claim to be beacons of light and love in our world, and as we sing songs asking for God to “break our heart for what breaks yours,” we ignore those around us who are searching for connection and community.

Through the ways we’ve talked, the ways we’ve acted, and the ways we’ve responded to stories of others and trusted confession of others, the church has become a place they no longer trust. A place where they no longer find love. A place where the most vulnerable are no longer willing to walk into.

This begs the question:

If we’re called to be people who bear the image of Christ, yet don’t bear it, it must be asked: who’s the real heretic?

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5 thoughts on “The Church in an age of Suicide. (Are we really a people of hope?)

  1. Provocative thinking, as always Michael. However, I think you may have two different blog posts here. I would like to hear more about your thoughts specifically related to the church and suicide. I look forward to reading more as you continue to work with this community effort.

    Your post beginning in the section of the stories of those in transition is also excellent, but takes me in a different direction. Related to this, I have been thinking lately that while “sin is sin,” I just cannot weigh it all equally. As I have thought about this, I think there is a dimension where evil and sin are two different things. Sin might be telling a lie, but evil is pushing a confused and desperate person to the point of suicide because of our beliefs. And I can’t believe that those two things are equal. I am not a theologian and have no scriptural basis for believing this, but my heart tells me that one presents an opportunity for continued growth in the Spirit, and the other for severe judgement from God.

    • Bruce, thanks for the feedback!

      You are probably right about this being multiple blog posts. As I wrote this, I felt as thought this would most likely find itself being expounded upon at a later time. My real purpose for this particular post was to show the clear distinction between who we say we are and what others have experienced us to be.

      In regards to a couple of your statements. I’d love to respond, but want some clarification! When you talk about wanting more clarity/thoughts on suicide and the church, are you looking for theological statements on what the church believes about it? Are you wanting me to expound upon what I think the churches responsibility needs to be?

      Also, are you wanting me to expound upon what I think about the theological ramifications on transgender individuals?

      • Knowing the church seems scared to talk about the issue of suicide is a clue that we have not come to a place of general agreement on it, which makes me suspicious of anyone offering a water tight position that all Christians should adhere to. This has only recently been on my mind, and I am curious about all the variables that might be important to consider from a theological viewpoint. I used to think that for someone to commit suicide, he or she would almost have to be not-quite-right mentally. And based on that, I’d like to believe there is grace for that person. But more and more I don’t believe the mental health defense is a given. I am still mulling over all this, so I don’t have any clear questions right now. But reading thoughtful commentary about the issue helps me clarify what I think and still need to know. And

        I don’t really care to hear more about the theological ramifications about the transgender issue. Plenty of charitable and uncharitable discourse is out there about that now.

  2. Pingback: I can't "love the sinner, hate the sin." | sobecreation

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